Maison des Matériaux II Belval
Behles & Jochimsen Architects
New science quarter
It’s rather unusual for universities to stock up architecturally for the future. New-build ventures are generally only entertained once the existing facilities have been bursting at the seams for a while. That’s not the case with Maison des Matériaux II in the new Luxembourg borough of Belval, though – this really is what one might call a “stockpile building”. It was conceived and built with anticipated future requirements in mind and its spatial configuration was planned intelligently and flexibly enough to ensure it can be used in whatever way future needs dictate.
The venture is part of the Belval “science city” that has been taking shape at Esch-sur-Alzette in south Luxembourg since 2003. A fully-fledged district for education and research is being erected here on the site of a former steelworks that embraces a mix of housing, offices and services and in which institutions newly established by Luxembourg University and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology play a defining role.
Forming an imposing backdrop is the monumental period industrial architecture of what was once the largest steel mill in the region, complete with its preserved furnaces. This erstwhile path-breaking industry has long since ceased operating here, however, and the site’s new architecture is pointing the way forward instead. The two buildings Maison des Matériaux I and II form a clearly cohesive whole. Their intermeshing L-shaped ground plans yield two distinct courtyard scenarios. In addition to having separate main entrances, they also share a common service core at their point of intersection.
Architecture and Object
“Door handles being those constituents of a building one takes hold of, they always serve as points of focus,” say Behles & Jochimsen, who like to adopt a handle model jointly perfected by themselves and FSB for their projects.
Materials science lab
This is a laboratory for materials sciences whose architectural idiom is likewise entirely grounded in the use and handling of materials. The building’s L-shaped cubage is monolithic, unruffled and straightforward. Solely responsible for imparting such a high-profile identity to the edifice is its moulded brickwork façade. Bricks projecting at regular intervals impact in a way that is enliveningly dissonant. Discreet horizontal banding groups floors together in twos and helps structure the building visually.
Shape has been lent to a linear architecture both inside and out. Liberal use has been made of timber amongst other materials indoors, thus injecting added warmth into the clean-lined architecture. Here, too, the architects proceeded with sculptural intent when fitting the material. Rather than simply being panelled, walls and a staircase in the foyer have been lined with slats the spaces between which give rise to a fine striped effect. This sense of geometry is echoed in reductionist banisters incorporating slender steel posts.
The device chosen to operate the project’s doors is FSB’s 1097 model. A system of classifying existing door-lever designs was elaborated when drafting the handle in the course of which two contrasting formal styles were made out: “curved” handle shapes and those that had been “organically transformed”. The FSB 1097 handle model was arrived at by merging the two formal categories identified and draws on those most rudimentary of basic shapes, the circle and the straight line.
Cooperating as a consortium: Behles & Jochimsen (concept, blueprint and detailed planning) and WW+ architektur + management sàrl (specs and site managers).
Photos: Marcus Bredt